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  • Writer's pictureMaxwell J.

A New Kind of Demonic Horror Emanates from Netflix’s Hellhole (2022)

Title: Hellhole

First Non-Festival Release: October 26, 2022 (Digital/Streaming Platforms)

Director: Bartosz M. Kowalski

Writer: Bartosz M. Kowalski, Mirella Zaradkiewicz

Runtime: 91 Minutes

Starring: Piotr Zurawksi, Olaf Lubaszenko, Sebastian Stankiewicz

Where to Watch: Check out where to find it here

When it comes to horror centered on exorcisms, there are plenty of obstacles to overcome in standing out from the scores of the films released covering similar material, oftentimes with the same beats. These stories have been played out for decades with one or may two films a year coming out of nowhere to deliver a fresh spin on Christian mythology regarding demons. Hellhole is a Polish film that misdirects the audience in a few surprising ways.

After a long journey, undercover police officer Marek (Piotr Zurawksi) finally makes it to his next case: a forgotten monastery that may be involved with a string of mysterious disappearances in the area. What Marek finds in his investigation, however, will test his faith and resolve.

Brooding, dark, and unexpected, Hellhole is a Polish Netflix original that will leave viewers guessing how it will subvert expectations.

Hellhole is an interesting exercise in subverting expectations without betraying the film it promises to be. It is clear from the beginning that Marek has suspicions about what is happening in the monastery, and it is exciting as an audience member to not know what is coming next. This constant state of misdirection allows the dread in the atmosphere to bubble over as Marek constantly seeks out the truth within the monastery. Things are off, but neither Marek nor the audience can put a finger on exactly why. Suspicious whispers, bizarre rituals, and other ominous confirmations that something sinister is happening make it easy to get sucked into the story.

Scant on character development, the audience isn’t given the chance to really get to know any of the major players in Hellhole. Clearly, the film wants to keep its cards close to its chest, and by revealing too much about anyone, Hellhole would endanger the plot progression it painstakingly builds. It does, however, make it difficult to get behind Marek’s character. With so little known about the man, the only aspects to him that the audience understands revolves around his relation to the plot. Furthermore, the secrets that get out in the monastery make the rest of the priests almost seem cartoonish in their villainy despite the dark implications.

While the scares never really land, Hellhole does an excellent job at crafting its dark atmospheric horror. Life at the monastery is depicted as brutal and bleak. Devoid of color and life, the devotees toil away in chores and proclamations of faith while eating slop. Horrific enough in its imagery and the implications of such a life, it works as phenomenal foreshadowing for the horrors within the walls. The grey color pallete potentiates this misery and hopelessness that should emanate from such a place, almost as if God himself isn’t there.

Despite its craft, Hellhole never quite comes together in the end. Its noncommittal approach to storytelling makes it difficult to take the narrative seriously. With every twist added, the audience must contend with new information changing shape of the narrative. This constant vacillation makes it difficult to stay on board with the film despite it technically fitting in with the narrative. Sometimes, its commitment to keeping the audience guessing feels more like grasping at straws than anything else.

This Polish film gets plenty right in its attempt to revitalize the possession subgenre. Hellhole is a uniquely constructed horror experience that focuses more on its twists and overall atmosphere than forming a compelling story. Its lack of attention to its core characters and tonal whiplash impedes it from full realizing the greatness within its concept. For horror fans seeking out a purely visceral experience, Hellhole should be able to satiate one’s thirst for gothic dread and ominous approach to horror. Seek out the truth in the monastery on Netflix if you want something truly out of left field.

Overall Score? 6.5/10

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